Tech breakthrough may double smartphone life

An MIT spin-off has said that it's developed power-amplifier technology that chooses the voltage that minimises power consumption, according to the MIT Technology Review.

The iPhone 5 has five power-amplifier chips (highlighted in the colourful boxes, along with an antenna switch in the orange box).
(Credit: iFixit)

The power amplifier is one of the most power-hungry pieces of hardware in a phone. It converts electricity into radio signals, and consumes power in two basic modes: standby and output signal, for sending out digital data. Such a chip wastes more than 65 per cent of its energy, according to a report in the MIT Technology Review, and the only way to make it more efficient is by reducing the power used in standby.

However, signals can be distorted if moving from a low standby mode to high power, so current technologies keep standby levels fairly high. That wastes electricity, and is partly what causes smartphone owners to recharge their devices multiple times a day.

An MIT spin-off company, ETA Devices, claimed that it has "cracked the efficiency problem with a new amplifier design", according to the MIT report. The company's technology is expected to cut base-station and smartphone energy consumption by half.

Essentially, ETA Devices, co-founded by MIT electrical engineering professors Joel Dawson and David Perreault, has created "a blazingly fast electronic gearbox". It examines different voltages that can be sent across the chip's transistors, and chooses the one that reduces power consumption. The technology, called asymmetric multilevel outphasing, does this up to 20 million times per second.

The technology addresses both transmitting and receiving, the report said.

ETA's technology is still in the development stages, but it could show up in long-term evolution (LTE) base stations starting in 2013. It's also still being researched for smartphones, the MIT report said, with hopes that the technology will ultimately lead to a single power amplifier that can handle all of the different modes and frequencies, including CDMA, GSM and 4G LTE. By comparison, the iPhone 5 currently has five of these chips, MIT said.

The company is expected to formally launch its product in February at Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona. It will first appear in emerging markets, where diesel-powered generators are currently used to power base stations. The report said that they consume about US$15 billion of fuel per year.

Reducing power consumption has become one of the primary targets for technology companies. Intel, whose processors have traditionally been more power hungry than competing chips, has been steadily making its technology more efficient. And other chip and gadget makers have also implemented new features that save battery life.


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trebor83 posted a comment   

The real improvement in battery life will come when they finally work out the kinks in silicon anodes and/or cathodes, each of which is expected to provide something like 500-700% improvement in capacity.


Spartan Jack 17 posted a comment   

I hope this invention is integrated into modern smartphones, my phones battery has already started to deteoriate, and I've only had it for a year


RomanoG posted a reply   

I have three batteries, at $10 each, I can easily afford to replace them and have backups for heavy use or for power outages like the ones caused by Sandy.

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